We often seek strong leaders. It seems that during much of my memory, and maybe our country’s history we have admired and sought leaders that were “strong.” Though sometimes I think we have the wrong perception of what strength is. At some point we shifted from looking to strong leaders to strongmen as leaders.
This might be a natural progression as we have become more ideological and partisan in our politics. I don’t know if this reflected a societal trend or preceded it. I think we have unwittingly been pushed in this direction by a relatively few politicians, media, and business leaders fomenting this narrative to their own ends—their grip on power.
Doing a simple google search leads me to these adjectives describing strong or good leadership:
- Integrity/Keeping your word
- Ability to delegate
- Communication/Easy to connect with people
- Self-awareness/Thinking ahead
- Learning agility/Endless curiosity
- Courage/Moving quickly on opportunities
I think there is a key concept missing from this list: courage to compromise. We have been seduced by the simple narrative of good versus evil, leading to zero-sum-game politics and, more and more, even social interactions. We have become so convinced that not only is the “other side” wrong or misguided, but that they are evil and must be defeated. Crushed. Obliterated.
The result is see-sawing back and forth of power like an evenly matched tug-of-war contest. Unfortunately, the result of tug-of-war is that someone is humiliated, face-down in the mud. If it’s a game at a picnic, then everyone gets up laughing and slapping each other with mud and then eats hot dogs. But in politics and now in daily life often we just wait until we get a bigger team and can humiliate the other side.
But most of us want the same thing. For everyone to live a better life. The pursuit of happiness and all. I’m not sure we can get there without leaders who have the courage to compromise. To find the commonality with the other side, recognizing they probably aren’t evil (though clearly there are always some who are—and some sociopaths in power just intent on holding power), and continue to progress society to better the lives of citizens. This may look weak to the ideologues, but strong leaders work toward progress. That might require pulling your opponent out of the mud instead of standing on their neck and pushing them down harder in the mud.
I’m not suggesting one compromises immoral and unethical acts and policies. That’s caving, which is different than compromising. The courage comes in seeing the difference and continuing to find opportunities for common victories which improve individuals lives, and then not letting go of those moments in history to make positive change.